With Halloween fast approaching, EW is picking the five best films in a variety of different horror movie categories. Each day, we’ll post our top picks from one specific group—say, vampire movies or slasher flicks—and give you the chance to vote on which is your favorite. On Oct. 31, EW will reveal your top choices. Today, we’re ready to talk zombies.
Most zombie movies start the same way: A mysterious virus spreads, causing the dead to come back to life as flesh-eating monsters. From there, the same questions often arise: Will the zombies be able to run? Can they be killed with blunt-force trauma to the head? Where will small group of survivors hide until the cavalry arrives? Add in a handful of disturbing images of zombies eating intestines, and you’ve got a classic undead story.
But the best zombie films tend to do one of two things: Either they use the monsters as an excuse for social commentary, analyzing the survivors even more than the monsters, or they have fun with the ridiculousness that is a zombie apocalypse. Considering that most people aren’t exactly worried about a zombie apocalypse actually happening, films have an opportunity to take the premise to extremes without fear of genuinely scarring their audience.
All of EW‘s top five picks fall into one of the categories above, though their approaches vary. At the end of the day, we walked away from all of these films thinking about zombies and either laughing or locking our doors … and maybe sleeping with a bat by our beds, just in case.
5. 28 Days Later (2002)
Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later gives fans just about everything they could want from a zombie movie. The “where have all the humans gone” opening is top notch, and thanks to its documentary feel, the eerie factor is ever-present. But more than that, 28 Days Later is a solid science-fiction film that closely examines human nature. If it weren’t for a somewhat disappointing ending—the much-anticipated action shoot-out—this one would be even higher on our list.
4. Zombie (1979)
If starring Mia Farrow’s sister isn’t enough to draw you in, Lucio Fulci’s Italian zombie flick is probably best known for the scene in which a zombie pulls a woman toward a wooden door until a large splinter is directly in front of her eyeball. Fulci gives the audience just enough time to think she’ll resist before, well, bloody things happen. And let’s not forget the moment a zombie fights a shark underwater. All in all, those two scenes perfectly illustrate what this ridiculously awesome—and, occasionally, truly scary—flick is all about.
3. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
The first film in Edgar Wright’s Cornetto trilogy takes the zombie genre and flips it on its head—and not just because it’s a comedy. The zombies in this story take a backseat to the daily drama of a group of friends. The main characters simply have to try to work out their problems…while also fending off the undead, which makes for several unforgettable moments. Take the time they beat a zombie with pool sticks as Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now” plays, or when Shaun (Simon Pegg) and Ed (Nick Frost) attempt to kill a zombie by throwing records—but only the bad ones—at its head. Just as importantly, the movie totally sticks its landing: Shaun keeps Zombie Ed as a video game-playing companion.
2. Night of the Living Dead (1968)
George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, largely considered the founding father of modern zombie cinema, never backs down. From the very beginning, it understands the dangers of a zombie apocalypse, and it plays them up at every opportunity. There are unforgettable–and horrifying—shots of zombies eating shoulder joints—and when that isn’t enough, Romero turns one of the survivor’s daughters into a zombie, forcing the audience to watch as the little girl stabs her mother. To top it all off, by the end of the film, there’s just one survivor left…and when the police come the next day to check on things, they mistake him for a zombie and shoot him in the head. Like we said: Romero didn’t hold back.
1. Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Romero’s follow-up to Night of the Living Dead is just as relentless as the first film, with pulse-pounding zombie action and disturbing images around every corner. But the sequel also adds a satirical lens to the story, which it uses to examine American consumerism. When a group of zombie apocalypse survivors gather at a shopping center, the film looks just as closely at them as it does the zombies outside—directly comparing the humans to the flesh-eating monsters. Quite frankly, it seems in the end that perhaps the zombies aren’t the most depraved people onscreen.